REVIEW: Narcos (Season 3)

Most people’s first thoughts going into Season 3 of the popular Netflix drama based on Colombia’s drug war and it’s high profile characters are mainly surrounding the absence of it’s two main characters Pablo Escobar and Steve Murphy, but it doesn’t take long for Narcos to feel like going forward with a new yet familiar direction is that much of a stretch.

It would be hard for any show to move away from it’s two main characters and more so when one of them is a brilliant performance throughout, seeing as Wagner Moura’s portrayal of Escobar is one that draws you in and sends you through a minefield of emotions. I was not sure if I could be tricked into sympathising for a “bad guy” like I was with Moura’s Escobar.

Whilst the first two seasons focused on the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar being told through the eyes of DEA Agent Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) with the help of his colleague Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal), this season saw Pascal’s character take the narrator and main protagonist role as the two worlds of history and television drama mixed again.

The trailers for Season 3 used the tagline “Witness the rise of a new empire” and really hyped up the Cali Cartel as the new bosses in town. Whilst the trailer got me excited, it was still those lingering thoughts about moving away from Escobar, not only from a character point of view but also a historical significance one. I had heard a lot about Pablo Escobar over the years and nothing of those that were the secondary drug trafficking operation whilst he was around and I was worried that the hype of a new ‘bigger and badder’ regime might not have as much of a gripping story to tell.

Within the first few episodes my fears were completely eradicated though, as the use of familiar faces helped bridge the gap between the previous seasons. Three of the four Cali Cartel Godfathers had been a part of previous episodes, so the returns of Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez along with their partner Pacho were some of the most welcome familiar faces as each of them stepped into the limelight with ease. It felt like the absence of one main antagonist this season would mean the focus this time around, would be centred on the drug war as a whole with the four main Cali bosses sharing the load. Gilberto Rodriguez (Damian Alcazar) is portrayed as the highest ranking of the four and does seem to be a legitimate threat to the world around him with his cool, calm and collected manner. Gilberto’s big plan and tactics start to grate on his partners, mostly his brother Miguel (Franciso Denis) who has a much more ruthless approach but seems to be thinking along the same lines as most of the lower ranking cartel members. Pacho (Alberto Ammann) was an interesting character in previous episodes and picks the audience right back up with a feeling that is slightly similar to the portrayal of Escobar in the first two seasons, one that led to us to sometimes want to root for the “charming bad guy”.

The best new character in the series is by far is the fourth Cali Godfather Chepe (Pepe Rapazote) who is the man in charge of operations in New York. From the earliest encounters with Rapazote’s infectious charisma I just wanted to see more. The role suits him in the sense that it is played really well but unfortunately the character is not utilised as much as I would have liked, which is one of the difficult things with the limitations of “based on true event” stories. Chepe is not in Colombia for much of the story and therefore is only shown on screen a few times, but when he gets his moments he really does seize them. For a brief moment I was convinced that they had done a really good make up job on a trimmed down Wagner Moura and given him a second role in the series, the sheer intensity in Rapazote’s eyes reminded me of the Escobar of Seasons 1 & 2. I would be very interested in seeing Pepe Rapazote take on a leading role of a similar nature in the future.

Another new character that wins over the audience is the sympathetic Jorge Salcedo (Matias Varela), who is a portrayed as one of the good guys caught up in a bad regime. Jorge has dreams of a steady family life running his own security firm, but this is Narcos and that means that his story won’t be going the way he had planned as he becomes a key figure in the third season. Varela’s portrayal of the family man is a convincing one as we see how good Jorge is at his job and I found myself starting to wonder what his own security firm would look like. The character doesn’t just come across as a hard working man though, the storylines surrounding him really do help bring out the emotion and unpredictability that Seasons 1 & 2 perfected.

Agent Pena is a little more grown up in this season as he takes on the role of accomplished hero after being an instrumental part in taking down Escobar. The first two seasons dove into Pena’s background and showed a sometimes careless and destructive side of the DEA agent, but he’s “a suit” now and struggles to fit into his role as he tries to just get the job done inside a corrupt system. I feel that Pedro Pascal takes on the main protagonist role with ease and conveys the character’s continued yet evolved inner struggles well. I would have preferred to see the character’s back story highlighted a little more as it felt the writers flirted with the idea a little at the start of the season, with his family life and the quick appearance of an old flame which sadly wasn’t ever picked up on again after that.

Two new agents are introduced to work alongside Pena and are the lesser used but well placed partners Chris Feistl (Michael Stahl-David) and Daniel Van Ness (Matt Whelan). The partnership grows throughout the season and Whelan’s character in particular really picks up after initially taking a back seat and hardly having a word in his first few scenes. He becomes an intriguing person to watch and I found myself wanting to learn more about him. Stahl-David’s character feels like he is the chosen one to replace Steve Murphy in this series and I was a little worried that it would become too obvious and feel like he was forced down our throats but I was pleasantly surprised. Where most shows have a habit of shoving new protagonists in our faces to let us know that he is the new “top guy”, it was a nice gradual build for Chris Feistl who alongside Daniel Van Ness as they became characters I felt ready to see more of.

The final new character that I want to mention is one that I found myself wanting to join the DEA, go to Colombia and capture with a smile on my face. Miguel’s son David Rodriguez (Arturo Castro) starts out as a character that doesn’t feel like he could become a big part of the season, although things soon change when his “spoilt brat with anger issues” personality really starts to show. David becomes obsessed with finding rats and moles within the Cartel for his father whilst trying to clearly influence him at the same time. We soon learn that even though he is a spoilt brat, he clearly knows how to use his power and skills to control a group of people. His character is an interesting and insightful portrayal of Columbian youth at that time. Whilst each of the three seasons have a rich Colombian feel to them throughout with scenery, language and traditional music, this third instalment of the show interestingly shows David being influenced by American youth culture. This is shown in scenes where he hangs out with his cronies whilst listening to Mobb Deep and Wu-Tang Clan instead of the traditional music enjoyed by his father’s generation. It makes you wonder whether or not David could have been the Cali guy in New York instead, running things with an ear on both his main rivals and target demographic within the United States.

Anyway, that’s enough praise for the guy because like I said, I just wanted the character to get what was coming to him every time he was on screen and his extremely punchable face (sorry Arturo… but it’s a gift when playing bad guys though!) probably helps bring that out of audiences more. He just looks like he should be a nice guy and that just makes you hate him more.

Narcos 3 is a great watch and does what it should …it makes you want to see a fourth season, which thankfully we will. Once again the need for subtitles is really not an issue, I know people who have turned off movies after realising they have subtitles but then love this show regardless, because it’s that good. Thankfully just like in Seasons 1 & 2, I sometimes forgot I was even reading them and couldn’t remember if they had been speaking English or not because I had been so drawn in by the story. The show does stray from the true events sometimes and this is something I usually struggle with more-so than others might. I make a point of heading straight to the internet after a movie to find out what really happened with supposed “based on true events” stories all the time. With Narcos I waited until I had finished the first two seasons to read about the Pablo Escobar story in more depth and even when I then found out that some of the events and storylines in the TV show were added in for dramatic effect, it really didn’t bother me and it didn’t this time round either. Which trust me, is saying something.

The mix of presenting styles used in the show continues as well with real news clips being narrated over once again, giving the audience that sense of realism which helps draw you in. The only time I felt it was a little distracting was the bathroom scene, because of the tiles used on set… you’ll see what I mean, it’s because of what I mentioned before about my weird obsession with keeping even the tiniest details of accuracy.

The main storyline is one that gripped me just like the first two seasons and whilst I did prefer the previous two, I have to say that this one is a great continuation of the story. The team behind the show have done well to transition away from the Escobar storyline but stick with the Colombian drug wars without losing my interest. This is something that is not easy to do and reminds me of the series Whitechapel that continued after it’s initial series focusing on a Jack the Ripper theme ended, but then was renewed and had to transition it’s characters and location to fit around similar storylines and move on. I went into the third season of Narcos wanting to see more of what I had seen in the first two and an ending in a similar fashion as they had with me wanting more and feeling satisfied, which is exactly what I got for the most part. My only criticism is that after a really strong build up and penultimate episode, I then watched what felt like a weaker finale than I had anticipated. It felt slightly rushed towards the end as many of the loose ends were quickly tied up so that the next season could go in a new direction, one that I am interested to see play out.